Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lafitte: pirate or privateer?

It is terribly hot now, so I've been feeling like a prisoner in my home, unwilling to go out for long unless I can make it to an air-conditioned place real quick.

Saturday morning, however, I decided to take advantage of the 10 a.m. park ranger-guided tour in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park swamp about a half hour away. A surprising number of others were waiting at the trailhead, apparently with the same need to get out into nature but under some shade. The ranger took us on a trail I'd already experienced but without the narrative. I learned a few new things.

First off, not everybody feared Lafitte nor considered him a problem. When Thomas Jefferson outlawed luxury imports, Lafitte brought those items in through the bayou's mysterious waterways. You could take a boat south of New Orleans to purchase a few slaves, recently imported from Africa, silk or a new crystal chandelier. When the authorities arrived, Lafitte would quickly disappear into the dense growth. (Sounds a bit like Wall Street traders.) There's no longer a natural outlet to the river, so we now get our black market goods other ways.

The first stop on our tour was a shell mound, basically the garbage dump of early native Americans, but minus the styrofoam and plastic bottles. They ate a lot of freshwater clams as well as crawfish, catfish and perch. We moved from hardwood forest to swamp and marsh and then into an open area where a canal had been dug to move cypress logs and when those were all gone, oil.

There were frogs sleeping in the water as well as a couple of lethargic alligators, their eyes peeping out from the vegetation. Though you could see only their snouts, it was apparent they were 7 - 8-ft. in length. The ranger warned us not to taunt them - they can move at least 30 mph on land.

After a couple-mile walk, the temperature was more than I could tolerate and the bugs were reminding me why I live in the urban area. I don't know how those early settlers survived the summer months.

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